More than a century of Venezuelan music, with a special focus on the guitar, is resumed and offered in this Da Vinci Classics CD. The album’s title and subtitle reveal the concept behind it: to present the many-coloured musical art of the country, but also to focus on the “classical folklore” represented by the guitar.
The repertoire recorded here is certainly varied, and represents a whole palette of nuances. In spite of the comparative homogeneity in the composers’ focus and aesthetical perspective, the personality of each musician is deeply pronounced and offers a unique panorama on the “Venezuelan” tinge of guitar music. On the other hand, what unifies the programme and gives it the powerful consistency of an aesthetical experience is the shared interest in how local styles and guitar technique intertwine, in how the spontaneous, “national” element of Venezuelan music encounters international audiences, without losing its specificity but, at the same time, creatively merging with the global artistic research.
The programme opens with the works of one of the foundational composers who established the “rules of the game” for later musicians. Antonio Lauro was born a little more than a century ago, to a family of Italian immigrants. Antonio learnt the basics of music from his father, a barber who had musical gifts and inclinations. Sadly, however, Antonio’s father (who was also called Antonio) died when his son was still a child. The boy’s talent was so obvious, though, that he was encouraged to study music in Caracas, under, among others, Vicente Emilio Sojo. The Damascus moment came for Lauro when listening to a recital by Agustín Barrios, whose exceptional performance at the guitar convinced the young musician to focus exclusively on the six-stringed instrument. He was taught by Raúl Borges, whose legendary school shaped the destiny of countless musicians, many of whom would retain an interest in Lauro’s works and contribute to their dissemination worldwide.
A typical trait of Lauro’s personality and character was his unfailing interest in his nation’s cultural heritage. What is called “musical nationalism” is a phenomenon which characterizes, normally, some European countries in the last years of the nineteenth century and in the first decades of the new century. In Latin America, however, this phenomenon arose later, basically due to the late establishment of political independence. Thus, the rediscovery and re-proposition, within a framework typical for “classical” music, of tunes, rhythms and musical gestures typical for a nation’s culture intersected with a “classical” language which had evolved in parallel. Whereas the likes of Smetana or Mussorgsky – to cite but two – were able to merge national elements with a late-Romantic classical style, the likes of Lauro and others whose works are recorded here had to blend folk elements with a more complex and modern musical idiom. Lauro responded to this linguistic challenge by choosing a style without an excessive musical experimentalism. He correctly believed that the originality of his style did not need further, fanciful traits; the mere idea of having Venezuelan folklore and European style meet each other was already original enough.
The main element of Venezuelan music which fascinated Lauro and became his second nature was the form of the vals venezolano, the Venezuelan Waltz. It is a musical genre originating in the nineteenth century, and which transfers the European experience of the waltz into a different context, providing new musical stimuli (in particular as concerns the use of syncopations) and new timbral combinations.
Lauro was impressed by a whole recital of valses venezolanos performed at the piano by Evencio Castellanos; he then decided that he would create a similar repertoire for his own instrument. However, Lauro’s interest in the guitar was by no means exclusive, and his rich output includes works for other instruments and ensembles.
Lauro’s life also included an adventurous moment, when he was imprisoned for his democratic activism; still, he took this misfortune very lightly, kept composing even in jail, and, once freed, resumed a spectacular career, both as a composer and as a performer. Lauro’s Suite Venezolana embodies perfectly his stylistic ideals and the orientation he would impress to later Venezuelan music and musicians.
Among these is Henry Martínez, a much younger composer whose musical education was mainly self-taught. This allowed him to experiment with, and to be influenced by a large number of musical styles, crafting his own personality in a very free fashion. His activity focuses mainly on songwriting, which makes him one of the best-known songwriters of his country. And this interest maps also onto his purely instrumental works, which reveal his pronounced interest in the melodic aspect, united to harmonic experimentation and rhythmical innovations.
His Criollísima is one of his most popular creations, and one which has travelled worldwide as a symbol of Venezuela and of its music. It is a Venezuelan merengue on lyrics by Luís Laguna, a musician who contributed to the shaping of Martínez’ musical personality by “adopting” him, as a young musician, in his group “Venezuela 4”. Criollísima is acknowledged to be one of the most fascinating creations both of its composer and of its country, thanks to the beauty of its melodic and harmonic structure, and also to the romantic words to which it is set.
Influences from non-Venezuelan traditions and from contemporary languages of North America and Europe are also found in the works by Alexandro Rodríguez. While Rodríguez did receive a structured education as a classical guitarist, both in Caracas and in Madrid, his youthful musical interests were by no means limited to classical music, and he regularly played the electric guitar in rock groups. Later, he turned his interests toward jazz music, but also to the intersection between jazz and classical music. This perspective was further deepened when he decided to settle in North America, where he brought the distinctive experience of his land, but opening it to new, bidirectional influences.
A variety of influences is also discernible in the studies undergone by Agelvis Sánchez Daza, in whose education we can observe the recurring names of Vicente Emilio Sojo and Rodrigo Riera, whom we will meet again soon. In turn, this musician became very active in the pedagogical field, establishing a project for a “mobile” musical education, whilst also engaging in chamber music and in concert production.
A similar blend of national elements with international experimentation also characterizes the work of Jesús Eduardo Álvarez Herrera, but, in this case, the main influences and the dialogue with the avantgardes take the shape of a structural experimentalism. Herrera is appreciated by many of the most progressive composers from the European tradition, and proposes a unique view of their language within a Latin-American perspective. Herrera is best known for his works for mouth organ, where he explores the sounds and technique of this instrument which rarely features within the “classical” context.
A more traditional stance was adopted by Eduardo Serrano, who is the eldest musician among those represented here. He specialized in the classical Venezuelan repertoire and in the typical forms of Venezuelan music, including first and foremost the Venezuelan merengue, the form which best embodies the uniqueness of Venezuelan folk music.
Another pupil of Vicente Emilio Sojo achieved international fame, and is rightfully represented here. Inocente Carreño was in fact one of Sojo’s many students, but, along with his education in composition, Carreño also undertook studies and performing careers as a singer and as a brass player (trumpet and horn). Like Sánchez Daza, Carreño took an active interest in musical education, and was among the creators of “El Sistema”, the internationally famous programme of musical education through orchestra playing for children.
Finally, the figure of Rodrigo Riera is another of those who marked a whole era, and, in turn, that of a musical pedagogue who actively shaped the musical horizon of many later musicians. Riera, like Lauro, received his first musical education from his father, and soon became an appreciated performer on the cuatro and on the guitar. Lauro, indeed, had the opportunity to listen to Riera’s youthful performances, and gave him references for studying with his former teacher, Raúl Borges. Riera also befriended Andrés Segovia, who would champion Riera’s music internationally and who opened up new horizons for him by inviting Riera to attend his master classes in Siena, Italy. Riera’s career took a truly international dimension, also thanks to his stays in Europe and North America; in New York, Riera’s path crossed those of many other great artists, in the musical field but also artists active in other performing arts.
Together, these musicians represent a century of Venezuelan music for the guitar, and how the quintessential Venezuelan language interacted with larger aesthetical movements and perspectives from a global angle. Their view enriches the vision of today’s music, and contributes to its opening to the future.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
Antonio Lauro. Born on August 3, 1917 in Ciudad Bolivar to parents of Italian origin, the father of Pizzo Calabro and the mother of Maratea. At the age of 17 he left the piano to concentrate his energies on the study of the guitar, and in 1935 he founded the choir Los Cantores del Trópic, thanks to which he was noted as a composer and arranger. In 1947 he concluded one of his first important works, the “Symphonic Poem” for soloist and choir, inspired by the homonymous work by Rómulo Gallegos. A year later, in the aftermath of the coup d’état on November 24, Lauro was first imprisoned and then exiled for about ten years, because of his ties with some leaders of the Acción Democrática’s party. In these years of exile, he wrote two of his most important works for guitar: the Sonata para guitarra and the famous Suite Venezolana. He died in Caracas in 1986.
Henry Martinez. He was born in Maracay on February 13, 1950. While privately studying composition and finishing his medical studies, Martinez approached Brazilian music. At the end of the seventies, he met the great artist Luis Laguna, with whom he established a deep friendship and with whom he composed great works, including the Merengue venezolano “Criollisima.” In 1976 Martinez joined the prestigious music group founded by Luis Laguna and that most influenced the following generations. From then on, his career began to flourish especially through the production and composition of music for great international artists. As he himself states, he never stopped playing his guitar, and even today he continues to accompany internationally renowned artists. He travels mainly to Europe and America to make sure that his poetic-musical work is known all over the world.
Alexandro Rodriguez. Born in Caracas in 1952, he studied folk guitar with Ignacio Ramos and classical guitar with Manuel Enrique Pérez Diaz and, later, with the prestigious Spanish master Regino Sainz de la Maza, in the city of Madrid. Between the years 1979 and 1982, Rodriguez moved to New York, developing his career in jazz. Back in Venezuela in 1982, he worked as a teacher, music producer, conductor and composer. Starting from July 2013 he moved to the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, where he still continues his activity as a composer, arranger, guitarist, teacher and bassist in the music school “Hope Academy of Music and the Arts”. His experience in jazz is very evident in the compositions for guitar, and in particular in the song “Tan lejos y tan cerca”, a Venezuelan vals with a purely jazz intention and techniques.
Jesús Eduardo Álvares Herrera. He was born in Caracas, Venezuela, where he studied guitar and composition with Manuel Enrique Pérez Díaz and Rómulo Lazarde. After a first period in the capital, he obtained a scholarship made available by the Venezuelan government, and so he was able to graduate at the “Royal College of Music” in London. He is also dedicated to teaching guitar, particularly in Italy, in the Lombardy region and mainly in the areas of Milan and Lecco. Thanks to his European training, Alvarez represents that strand of Venezuelan music that intertwines traditional rhythms with the most classical, most European compositional techniques, finding in the union between these cultures the perfect balance of evolution in the history of Venezuelan music.
Eduardo Serrano. He was born in Caracas in 1911 and studied at the Escuela de Música y Declamación de Caracas with Vicente Emilio Sojo specializing in violin, saxophone and percussion. He is renowed in different fields of Venezuelan music as a composer, conductor, radio and television musician, arranger of popular, children’s and choral music and precursor in the field of music for Venezuelan cinema. He is part of the quartet Los Cantores del Trópico with Marco Tulio Maristani, Manuel Enrique Pérez Díaz and Antonio Lauro. He died in Caracas on October 13, 2008.
Inocente Carreño. He was born in Porlamar (Isla de Margarita), on December 28, 1919. He officially began his musical studies in 1935, in the already established Escuela de música y declamación, where he studied the trumpet with Professor Federico Williams, and theory and solfeggio with Pedro Antonio Ramos. Without a doubt, the friendship with Antonio Lauro and the guidance and support of Vicente Emilio Sojo are decisive for Carreño to become increasingly interested in the guitar from a compositional point of view. In February 1986, he wrote the “Suite n° 2”, dedicating it to Antonio Lauro. He died on June 29, 2016 in Porlamar, Venezuela.
Rodrigo Riera. Born in Carora on September 19, 1923, he took his first steps in the musical world playing the cuatro, with which he performed for the first time at the age of 13. He inherited his passion for music from his father, a music teacher himself, and in 1937 he moved to Barquisimeto, hoping to have more opportunities. It is here that, two years later, he joined the guitar group founded by his brother Ruben, called “Hermanos Riera” and met his fellow countryman Alirio Diaz, not yet devoted to a musical career. There were three environments that marked his career and his life: Madrid, New York and finally his homeland. The American period, in a surprising way, saw him become famous thanks to a recital requested by the Venezuelan composer and writer Conny Méndez. This success kept him in New York more than expected, managing to consolidate over the years his talent as a composer, concert performer and teacher; to these years belongs the composition of the Preludio Criollo. The last period is that of the return to his homeland with the whole family, in the year 1969; he settled in Barquisimeto where he died on August 9, 1999.
Algevis Sanchez. He was born on July 24, 1974. His training was in charge of his father, Dr. Hilde Adolfo Sánchez F., who introduced him to the cuatro, theory and solfeggio, harmony, arrangement and composition. He studied at the Vicente Emilio Sojo Conservatory of Barquisimeto of Theory and Solfege, Harmony, Guitar and Piano. He carried out workshops, courses and master classes of classical guitar with the masters Rodrigo Riera and Luis Zea. In a self-taught way, he studied composition, arrangements, orchestration and production through books and didactic materials. He has been musical director, arranger and bassist of various groups both of the genre of typical Venezuelan popular music, as well as groups of Jazz, Blues, Bagpipes, Funk, Salsa and Flamenco; with some he has travelled to Colombia, Aruba, Puerto Rico, Canada, England, Scotland, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Denmark and Spain.
Manuel Angel Trejo Barrios
Born in Venezuela (1997) Manuel Angel Trejo Barrios began his musical studies within El Sistema Nacional de Orquestas Simon Bolivar in Caracas, under the guidance of the Dutch teacher Franka Verhagen when he was 14 years old.
In 2015 he attended the Universidad Católica Cecilio Acosta “UNICA”, in Maracaibo, where he studied chamber music, participating to a large guitar ensemble specialized in the Venezuelan folklore. At that time he collaborated with El Cuarteto in several master classes.
During the summer of 2017 he moved to Italy to continue his academic studies at the Conservatory of Music in Rovigo, where he actually attends a Master in Classical Guitar with the professor Monica Paolini. In 2019 he participated in several festivals as the "Festina Lente", "Federico Cesi" and "Latinamerican cultural week" in New York, where he received different awards.
He attended master classes with various European guitarists such as S. Palamidessi, L. Kuropaczewski, J. Fostier, C. Marcotulli, M. Socias, L. Michelli and he is actually attending Pablo Márquez´s classes since the winter of 2021 in Basel, Switzerland.
Antonio Lauro: (b Ciudad Bolívar, 3 Aug 1917; d Caracas, 18 April 1986). Venezuelan guitarist and composer. He originally studied the piano at the Caracas Conservatory but later changed to the guitar after hearing the Paraguayan guitarist Agustín Barrios. He wrote works for a wide variety of media, but it is those written and arranged for the guitar that have enjoyed international fame. His output, much of which was published only in his last years, included a concerto, a sonata, Suite Venezolano and Suite, Homenaje a John Duarte; but he is particularly identified with his numerous Valses venezolanos, characterized by rhythmic vitality, teasing hemiolas and lyrical melody. For some years Lauro was a member of the folk music trio Los Cantores del Trópico.
(b Porlamar, 28 Dec 1919). Venezuelan composer. In 1932 he entered the Escuela de Música y Declamación (later the José Angel Lamas School of Music), Caracas. In 1940 he began to study composition with Vicente Emilio Sojo, graduating in 1946. As a student and collaborator of Sojo, he contributed to the first professional music ensembles of the Venezuelan modern era. He was a guitarist with the Trio Caribe, promoting Venezuelan popular forms; played trumpet and horn, also conducting occasionally with the Venezuela SO; and was a singer and choral arranger with the Orfeón Lamas. He continued to compose and arrange popular genres as he began his career as an academic composer.
He taught harmony at the Lamas School (from 1945) and founded the Prudencio Esáa School of Music (1970). In 1954 his Margariteña, which was to become one of the emblematic compositions of the Venezuelan nationalist period, received its première at the First Latin American Music Festival of Caracas. Since then he has became one of the most prominent figures of the Venezuelan establishment, having held advisory positions in the Ministry of Culture and won many composition prizes, including the National Music Prize (1989).
Like other students of Sojo, Carreño was as a member of the nationalist school of Santa Capilla, or school of Caracas. With only occasional nods towards modernist techniques, he has maintained a nationalist aesthetic throughout his career. His style is characterized by neo-classical forms, effective post-Impressionist orchestration and enchanting melodic flair, often inspired by the folk melodies of the island of Margarita where he was born.